The Most Infamous Places for Shipwrecks in Recent Times

Abandoned shipwreck.
Abandoned shipwreck.

Shipwrecks occur in waters all over the world. These disasters are caused by a number of factors, including bad weather, human error, improper cargo storage, mechanical problems, and collisions. Shipwrecked vessels may be left above water, breached on sand or rocky outcroppings, or may sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Shipping vessels carry approximately 90% of goods traded globally, which means that oceans and seas around the world may host a large number of these seafaring vehicles at any given time. This high level of water traffic also means that the risk of accidents is greater, as a higher number of ships is more likely to result in a higher number of shipwrecks. Shipwrecks were once a fairly common occurrence, however, the annual number of large maritime losses has been reduced by approximately 50% over the last decade. This reduction has been, in large part, the result of new monitoring methods and navigation practices implemented in many areas of the world. Additionally, maritime trade activity has decreased somewhat during the same 10-year period. This reduction in activity may be one explanation for the decreased cases of shipping accidents, losses, and wrecks. Some experts also claim that antiquated operating standards in some areas of Asia continue to be a major contributing factor to the larger than average number of shipwrecks this area reports. Other factors include the type of ship involved in the accidents. Many researchers note that a large percentage of shipwrecks involve cargo ships. For example, during the period between 2007 and 2016, cargo ships made up nearly one-third of all shipwrecks that resulted in total loss.

While boating accidents and losses may occur in any body of water around the world, some geographic regions tend to experience more shipwrecks than others, as seen in Asia. This article takes a closer look at the most infamous locations for shipwrecks, according to data collected by Allianz between 2007 and 2016. Despite the large total number of shipwrecks around the world, the accidents reported actually represent a decrease in shipping losses on a yearly basis. For example, Allianz reported that shipping losses experienced a 16% decrease between 2015 and 2016. The total number of all types of shipping accidents around the world has also declined, decreasing by 29% between 2007 and 2016.

South China, Indochina, Indonesia, and the Philippines: 249

Since 2007, the waters off the coasts of South China, Indochina, Indonesia, and the Philippines have experienced 249 shipwrecks. This number represents just over 2 maritime accidents every month. In 2016 alone, these maritime routes accounted for more than 25% of all shipping damage around the world. The area around these countries is largely comprised of the South China Sea, which connects the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific Ocean. It is considered the hub of trade between Asia and Europe. In fact, approximately 33% of all marine vessels pass through this area. The Strait of Malacca, located here, is considered one of the most important marine trade routes in the world and facilitates the trade of 25% of all goods and 25% of all global oil trades. This heavy traffic pattern provides one of the explanations for the high number of shipwrecks that occur in this region.

East Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea: 162

The second largest number of shipwrecks in the world occurs in the waters of the East Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Between 2007 and 2016, this area reported a total of 162 accidents. During this time period, shipwrecks became more common in this maritime zone and increased by 16% in 2016. This increase pushed the East Mediterranean and Black Seas into 2nd place, replacing the British Isles region.

Japan, Korea, and North China: 139

The waters surrounding Japan, the Korean Peninsula, and North China experienced 139 shipwrecks between 2007 and 2016. This number places the region in 3rd place and represents a significant increase over previous years.

British Isles, North Sea, English Channel, and Bay of Biscay: 89

The waters surrounding the British Isles include the North Sea, the English Channel, and the Bay of Biscay. This shipping area was previously in the 2nd place position, but because of increased shipwrecks in the East Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, and around Japan, the Korean Peninsula, and North China, it is now in 4th place. Between 2007 and 2016, this region experienced 89 shipwrecks.

Arabian Gulf: 77

The Arabian Gulf, also known as the Persian Gulf, includes the waters between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. It is connected to the Indian Ocean by the Strait of Hormuz, which is only 33.55 miles wide at its narrowest point. In order to navigate this strait, vessels adhere to a Traffic Separation Scheme, in which incoming ships use one side of the strait, while outgoing ships use another. Despite its small size, roughly 35% of all petroleum traded over maritime routes is transported through this area. This percentage represents an approximate average of 14 tankers and 17 million barrels of petroleum daily. Between 2007 and 2016, the Arabian Gulf reported 77 shipwrecks.

West Mediterranean: 51

The West Mediterranean area connects Western Europe to Northern Africa. During the most recent decade measured, the region had 51 shipwrecks in total.

West African Coast: 50

The West African Coast ranks 7th, with 50 shipwrecks reported between 2007 and 2016. This area is commonly used for the transportation of imports and exports to and from countries like Guinea, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Gambia, Liberia, and Ghana.

East African Coast: 39

The area off the coast of East Africa is the 8th most infamous for shipwrecks. Between 2007 and 2016, 39 shipwrecks were reported here. This region services countries such as Madagascar, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Somalia, and is perhaps most notorious for its pirate activity.

Bay of Bengal: 34

The Bay of Bengal is located between India and Myanmar and is an important maritime area for South and Southeast Asia. This bay ranks number 9 on the list, with 34 shipwrecks occurring over the last 10 years.

Russian Arctic and the Bering Sea: 31

The Russian Arctic and the Bering Sea maritime areas provide passage into the northern Pacific Ocean and connect to the other Arctic maritime routes that connect the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This zone ranks 10th, with 31 shipwrecks between 2007 and 2016.


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